Trafficking in Persons report: Trinidad and Tobago upgraded

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this file photo, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a meeting in Washington, DC. – Photo from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s X account

After three consecutive years on the Tier 2 Watch List on the Traffic In Persons (TIP) report, Trinidad and Tobago has been upgraded to Tier 2.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken released the 2024 TIP report on June 24. The US Department of State prepared the report.

Trinidad and Tobago is one of 96 countries in Tier 2. Other Caribbean countries in this tier include Barbados, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda.

This tier suggests governments of these countries do not fully meet the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking but are making significant efforts to do so.

The report said the Trinidad and Tobago Government demonstrated an overall increase in efforts compared with the previous reporting period.

“These efforts included increasing investigations and prosecutions, enacting legislation to remove the lengthy preliminary inquiry process previously contributing to significant delays in the prosecution of trafficking and other crimes, and increasing judicial and police anti-trafficking personnel,” the report said.

“Courts convicted a trafficker for the first time and sentenced him to a significant prison term.”

This was Anthony Smith of Tunapuna, who was convicted for offences committed between 2014 and 2015.

The report added, “The Government continued furnishing and construction work on a new transitional shelter and a fifth housing unit specifically for trafficking victims and provided improved quarters for the Counter-Trafficking Unit (CTU) for improved victim interviews with increased security.”

However, the report said the Government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.

“Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes by some in the police and national security services, including at more senior levels, remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action,” it said.

“Efforts to address alleged official complicity including trafficking of potential and actual victims at the immigration detention centers remained inadequate and resulted in re-trafficking.”

The report found lack of adequate screening of migrant workers likely resulted in inappropriate penalisation. This includes deportation of victims of trafficking for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

It added, “The Government did not report efforts to investigate a violent home invasion of an anti-trafficking NGO representative by police or those posing as police. Victims were not consistently allowed access to a lawyer of their choice.

“Victim identification, referral, and protective services, along with interagency coordination and evidence-collection, while improved from the prior reporting period, remained weak and inconsistent.”

The report listed several prioritised recommendations, such as increasing proactive victim identification, screening, and protection among vulnerable communities.

These communities include children in children’s homes and schools, migrants awaiting deportation at immigration detention centres, and other migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees, the majority of whom are Venezuelans.

Another is to improve evidence collection, the quality of prosecutions, and co-operation between the CTU, prosecutors, the judiciary, other agencies and NGOs to increase the number of cases that go to trial.

“Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalised solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Continue to reduce judicial backlog,” the report said.

The report says a victim need not be physically transported from one location to another for the crime to fall within the definition of human trafficking.

Tier placement falls into four categories: Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List and Tier 3.

Tier 1 is the highest ranking and refers to countries whose governments fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA’s) minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.

Tier 3 is the lowest ranking and refers to countries whose governments do not fully meet the TVPA’s minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

The report covers government efforts from April 1, 2023-March 31, 2024.

A statement from the National Security Ministry on the afternoon of June 24 said line minister Fitzgerald Hinds offered sincere thanks to all stakeholders for their continued efforts in the upgrade.

He especially thanked the heads of the CTU, past and current, for the period under review.

“Special thanks also to the law enforcement platform that supported this work,” the statement said.

“The minister gives the solid assurance that the report will be studied in great detail, and the recommendations vigorously pursued, with a view to having TT’s response to the sordid and brutal crime of human trafficking be at all times consistent with international standards and best practice.”